This week, we examine the passion of Christ from the perspective of Caiaphas, the high priest responsible for initiating the arrest, interrogation, and crucifixion of Jesus.
Judea was part of the Roman Empire, which is why the Roman governor was sent to oversee the area from a civil and political point of view. However, the Jewish people were allowed to continue to practice their religion with the caveat that the Roman government had the authority to appoint a high priest of their choosing. The high priest was then expected to keep the people in line, so to speak, so the Roman government did not have to worry about a religious uprising or revolt. Because of this relationship with the government, the high priest had a great deal of power and influence within the community. The appointed high priest at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion was Caiaphas, son-in-law of the former high priest, Annas.
By this point, Jesus had been in active ministry for three years and had gathered quite a following and a great deal of attention. He had been traveling around the land teaching, healing, raising the dead, and even chastising the Jewish leadership (or at least making them look foolish from time to time). He was saying new things that seemed to contradict Jewish teaching – namely, diminishing or breaking the religious laws that the legalists worked so hard to enforce – and people were listening to Him. Essentially, the Jewish leadership, headed by Caiaphas, saw Jesus’ influence over the people and it was beginning to concern them. “So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, ‘What are we going to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation’” (John 11:47-48). This particular group of people were becoming more and more fearful that they would lose their power because of Jesus and so they plotted a way to have Him executed.
Two of the gospel accounts note a very specific sin of which Caiaphas and the other priests were guilty: envy. Interestingly enough, in both accounts (Mat 27:18 and Mark 15:10), it is Pontius Pilate who perceives the envy and recognizes it as the motive for their actions. As we all know, when we allow our sin to fester, it grows exponentially. Caiaphas was living with a deep, deep pride that was causing his heart and soul great harm. Imagine a time in your life where you allowed a particular sin to take over, like Caiaphas. Perhaps it was anger, gluttony, or sexual sin. Maybe you suffer from pride and envy and can relate very closely to Caiaphas’ issues. How do you feel during those times in your life? Oftentimes, people mistake freedom for license to do whatever we like. However, as Christians, we know that remaining in sin does not make us free. Persisting in our sinful ways makes us slaves to sin and causes us to feel out of control. Caiaphas was in a state of sin that clouded his ability to see and think clearly. He must have felt out of control as he continued orchestrating the death of Jesus, a legitimately innocent man. When we find ourselves in these types of situations, we must work to cultivate the opposite virtue – charity or love for our neighbors – while simultaneously praying for resistance to sin.
Last week, we considered the likelihood that Pontius Pilate and his wife converted to Christianity after the events surrounding the passion of Christ, noting that Eastern Catholic Churches have declared them as saints. There are also other characters in the story that expressed regret over their actions. For example, Peter was deeply remorseful for denying Jesus and he “wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62) over his actions. Judas, before despairing and taking his life, experienced some sort of regret as he tried to undo his actions by attempting to return the money he had received for his act of betrayal. Unfortunately for Caiaphas, there seems to be evidence that he never had a change of heart, despite watching Jesus suffer and die for what amounted to Caiaphas’ own insecurity. Caiaphas is first mentioned after the resurrection of Jesus in Acts 4:7, when Peter and John are brought before the Council after the healing of a lame man. Thus, we know at this point, that he is still seeking to give these new Christians a hard time. We also know that Caiaphas was the high priest through 36 or 37 AD, so he is most likely the high priest whom Saul went to for permission to persecute the Christians, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2). The evidence presented in Acts demonstrates that Caiaphas did not experience a conversion right after Jesus’ execution, but what about later in his life? Unfortunately, there is some circumstantial evidence that this did not happen either. Five of Caiaphas’ sons went on to become Jewish high priests after him. Of course, this does not speak definitively on the state of his soul at the moment of his death, but it does indicate the way he continued to influence both his family and their leadership. Having five sons follow in his footsteps likely also fed into his sin of pride. Since God is outside of time, we can pray that Caiaphas was somehow compelled to repent of his sins before he died.
This week, spend some time thinking about Caiaphas and how sin, when unbridled, will eat away at you and lead you into darker and darker territory. Naturally, it’s very unlikely that any of you reading this is so entrenched in sin that you are plotting the murder of an innocent person. Perhaps there is something, however, that needs to be rooted out because it’s taking up time and energy that you should be directing toward loving God and loving your neighbor.